- Selva Lawler
#19 - They Can Call It What They Wish. You Do What You Do!
The ideas for my e-newsletters, when I sit down to type them out, are normally clear as crystal. Yet here I am. Blanking hard on this one. The Google Doc is open. And I am staring at the blinking cursor.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote that, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." I can't say that most of the time I share that experience. On the other hand, I would be an unmitigated disaster using a typewriter! My mind is way too scattered to stay that on point. Thanks to modern technology, I will type out one thought, write [EXPAND UPON THIS!] when I think I have a good idea but the muse isn’t flowing through me, jot down a YouTube link or an emoji 🤔, and regurgitate a bunch of stuff on said Google Doc. Thereafter, I separate the wheat from the chaff and see which stuff sticks and discard the stuff that stinks.
Stephen King may have said it best. “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” I normally like to think of myself as a professional. But for the time being I’ve been demoted to Bush League status. It’s Amateur Hour, and there’s a table reserved for Parker Vincent Sherry, party of one.
Still bumfuzzled, I open up Mailchimp. Coming from the startup and tech world, perhaps I could glean some kind of metric to see what topics people like and write more about those motifs?
The Mailchimp user experience is a seamless one. When I want to send out a new update, I go to the Campaigns tab and start another campaign.
Mailchimp provides a lot of analytics in the Campaign feature. For every update I’ve sent, I can see, to name only a few examples, things like:
How many people opened it, and what percentage of people opened it
How many people clicked on a link, and what percentage of people clicked on a link
How many emails bounced (translation: which of my contacts have I really not stayed in touch with!)
24-hour performance (given our 24-hour news cycle, looking at things with a 48-hours lens is so worthless!)
A map of my international appeal (most of my readership is in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. A recent update of mine interestingly had 92 opens in Australia [you Aussies rock...good on ya, mates!]. On the other end of the spectrum, I had 4 opens in Bolivia and 2 opens in Myanmar. If you expect me to be upset by that, prepare to be bitterly disappointed. My reaction is, “Sweet! That's some real international range, right there!” 😂😂)
The click rate. My last update, which didn’t include any hyperlinks, was therefore below the "industry average". (Talk about feeling mediocre! That’s not merely losing, that’s getting my rear end utterly kicked. Although remind me, what industry am I in? 😁)
In short, the MailChimp analytics equips the user with an illuminating glimpse into that user’s audience.
Certain metrics are more difficult, if not impossible, to pin down. For instance, how does reading something that I wrote make somebody feel? For all of the opens I get, absent some kind of specific written response from a person, I can’t tell whether each person who reads (or doesn’t read) my update think that it’s such trash that they want to “wicker man” their expensive smartphone, or those people that enjoyed it or gleaned some marginal value out of reading my missive.
There’s one other analytic that used to be the bane of my existence. Unsubscribed. That Unsubscribed tab in Mailchimp mockingly stares right at me, chuckling a sinister laugh. Oh, Unsubscribed, you pernicious devil, you.
Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe? How dare they? My updates are straight-up gold! 💰💰 I could’ve been doing so many other things, and instead bled over my typewriter coming up with such inspirational words, and some people dare unsubscribe!?!? 😂😂
Analyzing my thought process here is like entering a black hole of narcissism. With that level of an ego, you can cut it in the air with a knife.
Never mind all the positive messages I receive. People who are writers for a living, including people who write screenplays and people who have written bestselling books that have made the top 10 on Amazon.com and have been New York Times bestsellers, who are far superior writers than I, have told me my updates are terrific and that I’m a gifted writer. They’ve encouraged me to keep it up. And I get a lot of love from a lot of people all over the world, which means the world to me! It’s only a matter of time before I really become an iconic figure in Myanmar. I’m telling you, there’s a lot of potential for aggressive expansion when it comes to me and the Myanmarese market. Added bonus: their cuisine is to die for!
And yet, the megalomaniac in me has a tendency to infrequently disregard all of the positive messages from so many people that I so admire, some of whom are genuine heroes of mine, and focus on a couple of unsubscribers. Who are these ingrates! I’ll show them! Across every platform, I shall unfollow them! Sayonara, suckers!
I even had such a fear of unsubscribes initially that I legitimately considered not releasing as many updates. Why was that? Well, my ingenious logic reckoned, with each update I send that inherently entails a risk of unsubscribes, so why give people another opportunity to reject me and my writing?
Whether it’s meditation, plant medicine, life experience, some of the above, or all of the above, I’m more quickly able to notice when my ego has taken command of the wheel. I can recognize when that happens, realize how ridiculous the ego is being, and laugh at the moronic, narcissistic level of perfection it commands. It’s that act of noticing that nips those negative feedback loops in the bud much, much sooner, and greatly reduces the halflife of my suffering. I’m grateful for the heightened awareness.
We all have that choice. To focus on the positive, or to dwell on the negative. The amount of effort and calories burned for each choice will be exactly the same, so why not choose to be optimistic?
With each update I send out I’ve been getting more and more readers, for which I’m incredibly thankful. I used to look and scowl at the roughly two unsubscribes I typically get for each update. Now, I don’t look. One of Don Miguel Ruiz’s agreements in his book The Four Agreements is to not take anything personally. Admittedly, that’s a hard one, and the room for improvement for me as to this area is probably the largest room in the galaxy. However, as Don Miguel Ruiz writes, “When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” When it comes to my - let’s face it, relatively trivial e-newsletter - some people are inundated with far too much email. Some people have such a significant amount of other stuff going on in their lives. I’ve come to learn that other people’s negative or indifferent responses have very little, or nothing at all, to do with me. And that epiphany is empowering, because I then feel more fully unleashed to be my authentic self.
Humans are obsessed with scaling, and as my background is in the tech and startup world, I know the fascination with scaling all too well. The quality of what you’re doing be damned, everything needs to be quantifiable and broken down into metrics! Your company had 10X growth last year? Well, that’s small potatoes, because another company had 100X growth. “A million dollars isn't cool,” Sean Parker declares in The Social Network. “You know what's cool? A billion dollars.”
With the rise of big data, we are living in a world that has no shortage of quantifiable metrics. I’m not against that. I’m actually quite a nerd and really dig analytics! But we can’t measure everything. I’m skeptical that we’ll ever have the technological wizardry to fully measure how much joy and love the human heart is capable of holding. Nonetheless, those limits are worth challenging. A child laughs 300-400 times a day, whereas an adult laughs 17. What happened in between? When do we download our delight? Let’s lighten up!
Lately I’ve been thinking about how making a meaningful impact on a few people in your life, or even one person, can in some instances actually have the biggest ROI type impact over the long haul.
For example, let’s imagine in some hypothetical scenario that a second-grade teacher of don Howard somehow sparked a spark in him that got him interested in nature. (I’m completely inventing this hypothetical, but the reasoning of what I’m outlining is sound.) That in turn got him into plants, which in turn got him into plant medicine, which in turn got him to start SpiritQuest, which in turn got him to have thousands and thousands of people visit SpiritQuest in Peru and transform their lives, which in turn helped millions and millions of people that those SpiritQuest people interacted with in their lives, which in turn led to a much-needed elevation of consciousness on a global scale. The real definition of a person’s legacy, according to the musical Hamilton, is “Planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” This second-grade teacher would have absolutely zero clue what the downstream effects of her life’s work would be. But there she was, dutifully planting seeds in a garden she never got to see blossom.
don Howard was recently asked how he envisions the term legacy, and in response, he said that he hopes that people think, “There’s a guy who did his best.” Another of Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements is to always do your best. In fact, doing your best is so paramount, Don Miguel Ruiz reasons, that you can fail the other three agreements and still totally transform your life. “If you’re doing your best, you will feel good about yourself even if you still make assumptions, still take things personally, and still are not impeccable with your word. If you do your best always, over and over again, you will become a master of transformation.”
Only you can know when you’ve given it that maximum effort. If you did, then you have to accept that the chips will fall where they may and that so many things are out of your control. And if you didn’t do your best, the sooner you can dive into what that is teaching you (there’s a lesson there, I promise you!), and the sooner you can show yourself self-compassion throughout the process, doing your best for whatever your next endeavor is will definitely be on the menu.
It’s your best. It’s not Dan Dude’s best, or Sally Shmoe’s best. It’s your best. It’s not about measuring up to anyone else except yourself. If you want to get in the comparison game, compare you to yourself of yesterday. If the 24-hour cycle is too “old hat” for you, compare yourself to you of an hour ago. Always do your best, and the universe sorts out the rest.
Living an authentical life, and not taking too much stock in what other people’s opinions are, is instrumental in this process. “If I had asked people what they wanted,” Henry Ford said, “they would have said faster horses.” You can be the lead actress in your life and live an authentic one that speaks to your calling, or you can do something that you’re not passionate about and be a bit player in many other people’s productions. So what’s it going to be?
don Howard once said about SpiritQuest and our work, "Call it what you wish, we do what we do." Call it what you wish. Put whatever linguistic wrapper you’re going to put on it. Call our work with plant medicine a drug experience (never mind that it’s not even remotely a drug experience), but fine, label it that if that tickles your fancy. Disregard what thousands of other people who have been to SpiritQuest say about the experience. Call it what you wish. Seriously, call it whatever you wish. We do what we do. We sing our song.
Some people think you will suck. But what do you believe? What do you feel? What other people think about you, as the old adage goes, is none of your business.
It's hard for me to determine which people might be receptive to my message and which people may find it repulsive. I've come to a point where I know that I'm singing my authentic song. I really don't care if particular people think that the lyrics to my song are garbage. Or that the chorus isn't catchy enough. Or that I need to add more cowbell (although let's be honest, that criticism is always fair).
We can't all even agree that the sky is blue or that water is wet. Don't believe me? Head to YouTube sometime and search for highlight videos of the most transcendent people to ever enter their respective arenas in life. J.K. Rowling. Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Meryl Streep. Hans Zimmer. Simone Biles. Beethoven. The Beatles. Maya Angelou. Rafa Nadal. Whitney Houston. Martin Scorcese. Shakira. What's the common denominator for all of these highly skilled masters? Brilliance? Bravado? A pathological need to win, or not to lose? An indomitable will to reach the absolute pinnacle of their craft, not only surpassing everyone else in their generation, but to be the best who has ever done it? To be the GOAT? 🐐 Sure, all of those may apply. But there's something that unites all of them as well. All of their YouTube videos receive tons (as in thousands, and sometimes millions) of thumbs down. The sublime can only be appreciated when contrasted to the ridiculous, and while it boggles the mind that any of these people could live in a universe where they get any thumbs down, one point is undeniable. There are some haters out there!
A lot of people highly enjoy reading my writing. The amount of people that say I should write a book is getting to the point that I may be crazy enough to take people up on that. 🤪 Many people aren't at all interested in my writing. And I'm sure there's a not insignificant amount of people who would rather take a prolonged bath in rhino feces than read my drivel.
All of this is entirely legitimate. It's hard for me to determine which people might be receptive to my message and which people think it is horrendous. My writing isn't for everyone. My message doesn't resonate with everyone. I certainly seem incapable of brevity when it comes to my writing, try as I might. Consider me an acquired taste.
Seeing how I’m nowhere near the transcendent level of the legends that I listed above, I recognize that a large number of people will give me a thumbs down as well, and that doesn't deter nor bother me.
In my view, one of the most loathsome expressions in the world is, “Don't hate the player, hate the game.” Poppycock and balderdash! Don't hate the game. To the contrary, as Guy Ritchie once said, "Love the game because you're in it, mate." The great game is exhilarating. As Ritchie continues, "The world will try and tell you who you are. And you have to tell yourself who you are. There's this ongoing battle. And somehow there needs to be a reconciliation between the two, but in the end, you've got to have all the eggs in your basket."
At one of our earlier retreats at SpiritQuest this year, one of our participants suggested that I look up a song called "Sing" by a band The Carpenters that was released in the early '70s. The lyrics are as follows:
“Sing, sing a song Sing out loud, sing out strong Sing of good things not bad Sing of happy not sad
Sing, sing a song Make it simple to last your whole life long Don't worry that it's not good enough For anyone else to hear Just sing, sing a song
Sing, sing a song Let the world sing along Sing of love there could be Sing for you and for me
Sing, sing a song Make it simple to last your whole life long Don't worry that it's not good enough For anyone else to hear Just sing, sing a song Just sing, sing a song Just sing, sing a song”
I would normally pass along the YouTube link, but "Sing" by the Carpenters is not my favorite sounding song. At all. In doing some quick Wikipedia research, it was written for Sesame Street. It very much sounds like a Sesame Street kinda song.
Consequently, I can't give “Sing” the Parker V. Sherry stamp of approval, nor can I subject it to some Mailchimp analytical evaluation by linking the YouTube video. It would sound so much better if we enlisted Kygo to take over the beat and have Norah Jones tickle the ivories. While I'm asking for the moon, let's insert Carlos Santana on the guitar. Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers will strum some fresh bass lick. Porangui and Ashley will cover everything else. Since it's my song, I'm respectfully requesting that all of them immediately report for duty. 😁
And yet, by me desperately wanting to reconfigure “Sing”, I’m ignoring the entire point of the song! It is not about my criticism of it. Sing the song irrespective of whatever haters (like yours truly) might think it is not up to snuff. The message behind “Sing” is timeless and impeccable.
So sing your song! Don't get caught up in the detractors. The haters. The unsubscribers. It is not the critic who counts, Teddy Roosevelt remarked 110 years ago. It’s not about the person who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. Instead, TR (the Original Rough Rider himself) praised the human actually in the arena, regardless of that human's ultimate success or failure. And if it is an inner critic - who, for so many of us, can be the most tyrannical judge of them all - kindly tell her or him to shut their piehole. Let others call it what they wish. Do what you do.
For me, I suspect I’m not deserving of so many complimentary things that people write or say to me, and I’m likely somewhere better than the “Your writing completely sucks! Loser! Unsubscribe! Unfollow!” crowd. Most importantly, only I can know when I’ve really given it my all. And only I can know when I’m singing my authentic song.
Singing your authentic song is worth belting out. It's worth the criticism and the hate. It's even worth the dreaded unsubscribes, the Twitter trolls, the 1-star Yelp reviews, the nastygrams on Instagram, and the thumbs down.
Singing your song is deserving of a lot of love. In fact, it's deserving of all of the love. As are all of you! 💚💚💚